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The 12 Biggest Sports Scandals of 2015

Sex parties, Simmons and slightly underinflated balls: From ‘Deflategate’ to daily fantasy, these are sports stories that dominated the year

The year in sports controversies

FILE - In this April 31, 2015, file photo, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady leaves Federal court in New York. Brady can suit up for his team's season opener after a judge erased his four-game suspension for "Deflategate." (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

Richard Drew/AP

Controversy in sports is nothing new, but in 2015, the scandals somehow seemed supersized. From the corruption charges that shook soccer's governing body to the seriously stupid "Deflategate" saga that dominated headlines for an entire year, there wasn't a story we could not conflate into a global crisis – though, in some cases, they actually warranted that level of concern.

And, sure, it is entirely possible that we take sports too seriously, but the issues at the heart of many of these controversies – domestic violence, unrestrained greed, racism, etc. – are the very same ones we deal with on a daily basis, which suggests that, if anything, sports have become a microcosm of our increasingly complex world. And how we react to each and every one of them says a lot about who we are, both as individuals and a society. Or maybe we're just sick of all those daily fantasy commercials.

So what better way to close the book on a year that educated us on the science behind PSI and introduced us all to a bearded cat enthusiast named Chuck Blazer than with a look back at the controversies that went way beyond the field of play – and into the realm of the absurd. These are the biggest sports scandals of 2015.

Deflategate; Brady; Controvery

Michael Nagle/Getty

‘Deflategate’: A Long National Nightmare With No End in Sight

What's a stupid scandal without an equally ridiculous name? "Deflategate" dominated the national discourse in 2015, which isn't exactly surprising considering it involved the most popular athlete (Tom Brady), on the most popular team (the New England Patriots) in the most popular sport of our time (the NFL). And on top of all that, it allowed us to make a near-unprecedented level of jokes about balls, which is as American a pastime as a Sunday spent ignoring everything horrifying and grotesque about pro football in the first place. Still, that doesn't make our national obsession with PSI any less depressing – especially considering the entire debacle ultimately resulted in little more than the Pats paying a million-dollar fine and losing some draft picks. The Wells Report, the Brady suspension, the bizarre press conferences, ultimately, it was all for naught. And it's still going on today, as the NFL's appeal of Brady's appeal won't be heard until 2016. Though, if there is a silver lining to all this, at least we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Roger Goodell is terrible at his job.

Fifa; Controversy; 2015

FIFA president Sepp Blatter looks on as fake dollar notes fly around him, thrown by a British comedian during a press conference at the FIFA world-body headquarter's on July 20, 2015 in Zurich. The 79-year-old Swiss official looked shaken as the notes thrown by Simon Brodkin, stagename Lee Nelson, fluttered around him in a conference hall at the FIFA headquarters. Brodkin was taken away in a Swiss police car after the stunt. AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP / FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)

Fabrice Coffrini/Getty

FIFA and the Not-So-Secret Shame of Sepp Blatter

An all-encompassing global takedown that basically doubled as a Bond film (only with less women), the FIFA corruption saga began in May, when the U.S. Department of Justice indicted 14 high-ranking soccer officials on racketeering and corruption charges – then escorted several of them out of a five-star Swiss hotel in the most polite way possible. Soon after, the case ballooned to include the sublimely ridiculous, including cash-stuffed briefcases, on-air spats between soccer officials and HBO comedians and exactly one pied-à-terre rented exclusively for cats. Eventually, the man at the top of the pyramid, FIFA president Sepp Blatter, announced he was resigning – though as of today, he's escaped any charges and is only suspended, pending an ethics investigation. And while all of this is funny, if you're looking for a stark reminder of just how serious it really is, kindly direct your attention to Qatar, home of the 2022 FIFA World Cup – and place where thousands of migrant workers will reportedly die constructing glittering monuments to the sport's excesses.

Steve Sarkisian; Controvery

LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 25, 2015: USC football coach Steve Sarkisian addresses the media Tuesday morning, August 25, 2015, about his behavior and language during a booster event on campus Saturday night. (Photo by Al Seib / Los Angels Times via Getty Images)

Al Seib/Getty

Steve Sarkisian Gets Sacked

As a high-paid coach at one of the most successful programs in college football, you'd think you'd want to be on the straight and narrow. But that's not how Steve Sarkisian rolls. In August, during his keynote speech at a USC-sponsored event for big-time donors, Sark slurred his words and dropped at least one F-Bomb before getting pulled from the stage (he'd later apologize and blame his actions on mixing alcohol and medication). Still, he remained on as coach of the Trojans, though after five games the university announced he had been put on an indefinite leave of absence – supposedly after showing up to team facilities under the influence. The next day, USC fired him, presumably bringing this sad saga to an end. Instead, Sarkisian doubled down, filing a wrongful termination suit against the USC, and seeking at least $12 million in damages on the grounds that the school "kicked him to the curb."

Geno; Controversy

Jeff Zelevansky/Getty

Geno Smith Gets Jacked

Sure, athletes get into fights, but they're usually not brawling with a member of their own team. Unfortunately, that's what made the latest Jets saga so intriguing. After getting into a locker room tiff about money, linebacker IK Enemkpali slugged Geno – at the time, still the team's starting QB – in the kisser, breaking Smith's jaw and earning a one-way ticket off the Jets' roster. Smith underwent surgery and lost his gig to Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has guided the Jets into playoff contention. Meanwhile, Enemkpali was subsequently picked up the Buffalo Bills, the team led by former Jets coach Rex Ryan. IK was then waived, assigned to Buffalo's practice squad and suspended by the NFL before rejoining the roster in October. Meanwhile, Smith replaced an injured Fitzpatrick in the Jets' loss to the Oakland Raiders, then briefly left with to an injury of his own and has yet to get back on the field.

Redskins; Controversies

LANDOVER, MD - DECEMBER 7: Inside linebacker Keenan Robinson #52, defensive end Chris Baker #92 and running back Matt Jones #31 of the Washington Redskins run on the field before a game against the Dallas Cowboys at FedExField on December 7, 2015 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Patrick Smith/Getty

The Washington Football Team That Shall Not Be Named

It's a controversy that's been brewing for years – in 2014, the U.S. Patent Office canceled Washington's 'Skins trademark on the grounds that it was "offensive to Native Americans" – but the movement to change the team's name has only picked up steam this year, no matter how deep owner Daniel Snyder digs his heels. A federal judge upheld the Patent Office's decision in July, which team lawyers appealed in the most ridiculous way possible – by arguing that there are plenty of way worse names that have received trademark protection, including "BIG TITTY BLEND coffee" and "HOT OCTOPUSS anti-premature ejaculation creams." There's also the recent revelation that the Twitter account belonging to Redskins Facts, "a growing online community of passionate…fans who support the team's use of its name and logo," is probably run by the 'Skins themselves. But hey, at least Jeb! doesn't think the name is offensive.

Manny; Mayweather; Controversies

Floyd Mayweather Jr. exchange punches with Manny Pacquiao during their welterweight unification championship bout, May 2, 2015 at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. Mayweather defeated Pacquiao by unanimous decision. AFP PHOTO / JOHN GURZINKSI (Photo credit should read JOHN GURZINSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

John Gurzinski/Getty

Mayweather vs. Pacquiao, the Heist of the Century

It was the most-hyped bout in recent memory. Sports fans and boxing noobs alike spoke breathlessly about the matchup between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao – a fight five years in the making. That's when they weren't talking about Mayweather's dark history of domestic abuse, of course. The lead-up was plagued by reports that Floyd's camp put the kibosh on press credentials issued to ESPN's Michelle Beadle and CNN's Rachel Nichols, supposedly after both had the audacity to speak out about Floyd's violent past. On top of all that, the fight itself was a dog – 12 rounds of fancy footwork mixed with the occasional polite exchange of punches – and several cable and satellite providers crumbled beneath an avalanche of PPV buys, leaving millions (who paid $100 to watch the fight in HD) blacked out. Afterward, there were reports that Pacquiao went into the fight with a bum shoulder and Mayweather had taken an illegal IV the day before stepping into the ring. Still, the whole thing made a ton of money for everyone involved (mostly Mayweather), and that's all that really matters, right?

Fan Duel; Draft Kings; Controversies

The FanDuel Inc. app and DraftKings Inc. website are arranged for a photograph in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, Oct. 5, 2015. Fantasy sports companies DraftKings Inc. and FanDuel Inc. raised a total of $575 million in July from investors including KKR & Co., 21st Century Fox Inc. and Major League Baseball to attract players to games that pay out millions of dollars in cash prizes in daily contests. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Andrew Herrer/Getty

Swimming With the Sharks in Daily Fantasy

An unregulated, multibillion dollar industry rife with insider trading and algorithm-crunching Flash Boys that prey upon starry-eyed simps clutching fistfuls of cash? What could possibly go wrong? Daily fantasy exploded in 2015, buoyed by big-time investors and an endless stream of jocular ads, which promised huge paydays for players just like you. Of course, no matter what DraftKings and FanDuel say, the deck is stacked against you from the moment you enter promo code "SUCKER." And while they can claim daily fantasy is a game of skill – and not one dictated by chance – this is gambling, pure and simple, something New York State got wise to last week, when they barred the sites from operating there (an appellate court would grant them a temporary reprieve, however). Soon, as many as eight other states may follow suit, which is bad news for bros expecting maximum payouts with minimal effort, but good news for a nation weary of those goddamn commercials.

CTE; Year in Sport Controversies

Will Smith stars in Columbia Pictures' "Concussion."

The NFL’s Ongoing CTE Nightmare

For years, the NFL downplayed the severity of traumatic brain injuries, cherry-picking data and co-opting medical journals to back up their claims that concussions were no big deal. But 2013's League of Denial was the canary in the coal mine, and post-mortem research of former players' brains by the Boston University School of Medicine revealed the presence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy time and time again. Eventually, the league reversed course, introducing a strict concussion protocol and vowing to continue trying to make the game safer (don't worry, Roger Goodell can still laugh at a good brain injury joke). And that's good, because with new studies revealing that 95.6 percent of deceased NFL players suffered CTE trauma, and the upcoming release of the Will Smith film Concussion, it sure looks like the NFL's CTE problems are only just beginning.

Louisville; Controversies

LOUISVILLE, KY - NOVEMBER 24: Head coach Rick Pitino of the Louisville Cardinals looks on during the game against the St. Francis-New York Terriers at KFC Yum! Center on November 24, 2015 in Louisville, Kentucky. Louisville won 85-41. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Joe Robbins/Getty

Cardinal Sins at the University of Louisville

Strippers? Sex parties? That's apparently the Cardinal Way. In October, the Louisville basketball program was rocked by the release of Breaking Cardinal Rules: Basketball and the Escort Queen, a juicy tell-all that alleged former graduate assistant Andre McGee had paid an area escort $10,000 to arrange nearly two-dozen "sex parties" for Cardinals players and potential recruits. A former recruit recounted his visit to campus thusly: "It was like I was in a strip club," and McGee resigned from his position at the University of Missouri – Kansas City as result of the claims (though he denied any wrongdoing). But the face of Louisville basketball – head coach Rick Pitino – remained in power, even if he had to throw McGee under the bus to do it. Maybe that's the Cardinal Way, too?

Greg Hardy Controversies


Greg Hardy, an Actual Monster

We'll say this about Greg Hardy – he's definitely earned his monstrous nickname. In May 2014, Hardy, then playing for the Carolina Panthers, was arrested on charges of assault after allegedly choking his former girlfriend and throwing her onto a futon covered with guns. He was convicted in a bench trial, though the Panthers didn't suspend him – he played in Week 1 – and would eventually only deactivate him before the NFL intervened, putting Hardy on the commissioner's exempt list while he awaited a jury trial. That never happened, as his accuser eventually stopped cooperating in the case, and the charges against him were dismissed. Hardy remained in limbo until the Dallas Cowboys swooped in and signed him to a one-year deal, and though he served a reduced 4-game suspension for violating the league's personal conduct policy, said personal conduct never really improved. In October, he made some shady comments about Tom Brady's wife, Gisele Bundchen, talked about coming out "guns blazin'" and got into a sideline spat with a coach. When police photos of the domestic violence incident were made public, he apologized – via Twitter – and changed his bio to "innocent until proven guilty." But hey, according to Jerry Jones, that's just how "real leaders" handle business.

Bill SImmons; ESPN

Mike Windle/Getty

Bill Simmons and ESPN File for Divorce

The biggest sports spat of the year centered on Bill Simmons – former Boston Sports Guy turned web impresario and TV talking head – and his corporate overlords at ESPN. After spending more than a decade needling the network, Simmons apparently went too far when he called Roger Goodell "a liar" on his ESPN-sponsored podcast during the height of the Ray Rice scandal, then dared his employers to suspend him for speaking out. So they called his bluff, putting Simmons on the shelf for three weeks. Unrepentant, Simmons went on The Dan Patrick Show in May and said Goodell lacked "testicular fortitude," which was the final straw: ESPN fired him, and slowly began to turn the vise on his Grantland website before finally killing it off in October. Don't cry for Bill, though, because he'll be just fine. After signing a deal with HBO, he relaunched his podcast this fall, rehired a few key Grantlanders and is currently working on a project slated to premiere in 2016.

Missouri; Controversies

COLUMBIA, MO - NOVEMBER 9: University of Missouri-Columbia head football coach Gary Pinkel speaks to the media during a news conference on the campus of University of Missouri - Columbia on November 9, 2015 in Columbia, Missouri. University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe resigned today amid protests over racial tensions at the university. (Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)

Michael B. Thomas/Getty

Missouri Football Team Strikes, Right Wingers Flip Out

After years of expressing their frustrations over the simmering racial tensions on campus – and getting minimal response from school officials – University of Missouri student leaders finally decided to take matters into their own hands. In October, they called for university system president Tim Wolfe's resignation, with one student even going on a hunger strike until it happened. Wolfe didn't budge (though, hey, at least he was nice enough to acknowledged racism still exists) until the Missouri football team entered into the fray, with players announcing they wouldn't practice or play until Wolfe was removed. The school's athletic department and coach Gary Pinkel expressed their solidarity, and one day later, Wolfe resigned. Power to the people, right? Not if you're a right wing conservative. Rush Limbaugh bemoaned the strike as "the end of college football as we know it" and said Wolfe "resigned because of committing the crime of being a white male," and Breitbart News wrote students used "pure intimidation tactics to terrorize the campus and cause…the football team to strike." And just this week, Missouri State Representative Rick Brattin, a Republican, pre-filed a bill that would revoke the scholarship of any athlete at a state university if he or she refused to play for any reason "unrelated to health."